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Hundreds told to evacuate as two wildfires converge

Officials say hazardous air likely to persist for days

YAKIMA – The rapid growth of Central Washington wildfires prompted more evacuation notices Wednesday as two fire complexes burned closer to each other.

Officials urged residents around the Mission Ridge ski area southwest of Wenatchee to leave their homes because of the rapid growth of the Table Mountain fire complex.

There have been reports of the Table Mountain fires throwing 8-inch chunks of burning bark 6 to 7 miles into the Mission Ridge area, Mick Mueller, fire spokesman for the nearby Wenatchee Complex fires, told the Wenatchee World.

Residents of 150 to 200 homes were told to leave Wednesday evening, the newspaper reported.

Jan Bullock passed her kitten Rosebella to a friend for safekeeping Wednesday night at a roadblock. Bullock told the World that she and her husband have lived near Squilchuck State Park for 15 years and have never before been threatened by fire. They planned to spend the night with relatives.

Thick smoke from the fires kept some residents indoors, forced schools to relocate weekend sporting events and closed part of a major highway.

Earlier Wednesday, state officials closed a 27-mile stretch of U.S. Highway 97 on Blewett Pass. The state Department of Transportation did not say when the highway might reopen.

Thousands of firefighters are battling dozens of wildfires that were sparked by lightning earlier this month up and down the east slopes of the Cascades. Some of the blazes are small and in remote areas, but hundreds of residents have been evacuated or warned to be ready to flee near the large fire complexes.

The Table Mountain and Wenatchee complexes are burning “closer and closer,” Wenatchee complex spokesman Alan Hoffmeister said late Wednesday.

“They’re asking us to work very closely together because the fires are moving closer together as they increase in size,” he said.

More than 500 firefighters battled the Table Mountain blazes, estimated late Wednesday to have burned nearly 15 square miles. They were just 4 percent contained.

Nearly 2,000 firefighters fought the Wenatchee Complex fires, which have burned 61 square miles and were just 22 percent contained.

Overall, fires were burning across some 88 square miles of dry forest, brush and grass in a part of the state that hasn’t seen significant rainfall in weeks.

State officials again warned of hazardous air quality in Ellensburg and Wenatchee, advising residents to remain indoors, limit physical activity and keep doors and windows closed, and noted that conditions are not expected to improve for several days.

The thick smoke forced Central Washington University to move its Saturday football game against Azusa Pacific University from Ellensburg to the Seattle suburb of Bothell, in what would have been the school’s home opener.

Tags: wildfires